28 April 2015

In Baltimore

London Review of Books blog

The National Guard was unleashed on Baltimore yesterday to quell unrest following the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died of injuries sustained in police custody. On 12 April, Gray was pinned to the pavement by officers before being loaded into a police van. When he was taken out of it his spine was ‘80 per cent severed’, according to the family’s lawyer. He spent a week in a coma and died on 19 April.
On Saturday I went to join a protest due to start at the corner of Presbury and North Mount streets. On my way there from the subway station I passed an alleyway with four police cars in it, their lights flashing. The cops appeared to be questioning people. A group of residents, all black, stood at the entrance to the alley, their phone cameras trained on the police.
I asked what was going on. ‘This shit happens every day around here.’ When a fifth police car arrived, a few members of the group put their hands sarcastically in the air. One man told the officer at the wheel that the alleyway couldn’t accommodate any more police vehicles.
Phone footage can occasionally force the police to be accountable, as in the case of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man shot several times in the back by an officer in South Carolina.
Gray’s arrest was captured on film too, but only up until the moment he was shoved into the van. His crime had been to flee the police unprovoked in a ‘high-crime area’ – a.k.a. ‘running while black’. READ MORE AT LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS BLOG.

Baltimore’s disgrace is its history of police violence

Al Jazeera America

After Saturday’s full day of peaceful protests in Baltimore calling for justice for Freddie Gray — the 25-year-old who recently died of a spinal injury suffered while in police custody — some protesters opted Saturday evening and Sunday to pursue more hands-on expressions of frustration. On Monday, the day of Gray’s memorial service, public tensions led to rioting in West Baltimore that continued into the evening.
The media also ran riot. As of Saturday night, the protests were said to have turned “violent” and “destructive.” ABC News initially reported that protesters had simply “become rowdy” but quickly amended the headline to incorporate the V-word. Conservative news site Breitbart.com took full advantage of its lack of editorial constraints to proclaim, “War zone: Baltimore erupts into violence, chaos as #BlackLivesMatter riots rage.”
When crowds turned to rioting on Monday, CNN legal analyst and New Yorker contributor Jeffrey Toobin took the opportunity on Anderson Cooper 360 to denounce the city. “Protest is an honorable thing; looting and criminality are not,” he said. “Baltimore disgraced itself today.” For Toobin, it’s as if nothing disgraceful or criminal happened before Monday, as if the city’s long history of racist police violence weren’t disgrace enough to be worth comment.On the receiving end of that violence have been teenagers, pregnant women, and octogenarian grandmothers.
Finally, the media found, the protesters were behaving according to the script — the one that casts black communities in America as powder kegs that can be contained only by the cops. Never mind that chucking hot dog buns and condiments at police and smashing up police vehicles and store windows is inherently less destructive, at least in terms of human life, than fatally severing a person’s spinal cord or shooting an unarmed man multiple times in the back. The latter two operations were performed under the sanction of U.S. law enforcement, whose behavior, no matter how outrageous, is still defended from public outrage by media and politicians alike. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA AMERICA.

26 April 2015

The CIA’s black marks on humanity

Al Jazeera America

One recent afternoon in Arlington, Virginia, I found myself doing pushups alongside a host of military and civilian attorneys, paralegals and other employees of the Office of the Chief Defense Counsel. It is part of the Defense Department’s Office of Military Commissions, which oversees war court proceedings for detainees at Guantánamo Bay, and I was visiting at 1 p.m. — designated pushup time. That wasn’t my original plan: I’d been scheduled to attend April pretrial hearings in Guantánamo for five high-value detainees (HVDs) accused of involvement in 9/11, but when the hearings were canceled by the case’s military judge, Arlington seemed to be the next best destination.
The official reason for the cancellation had to do with complications owing to the government’s infiltration last year of Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s defense team. Bin al-Shibh is one of the detainees linked to the Sept. 11 attacks; he’s accused of helping coordinate and finance them. The episode complicating the hearing involved two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation who went to the home of the team’s defense security officer, a civilian contractor then employed by a company called SRA International, and reportedly interrogated him about defense team activities. The officer was made to sign a nondisclosure agreement, hinting that the FBI sought to retain him as an informant.
The judge did his best to help dismiss the notion that such machinations might obstruct the pursuit of justice, ruling in July that the FBI’s actions created no conflict of interest for bin al-Shibh’s four co-defendants in the 9/11 case, but the latest hearing cancellation confirms the trial isn’t exactly back to business as usual. 
Then again, maybe this is business as usual, in a facility that defense lawyer Ramzi Kassem has described as “constructed to produce intelligence and perhaps to exact retribution but not to yield formal justice.” READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA AMERICA.

25 April 2015

Roumieh hostage crisis: A microcosm of Lebanon's broken state

Middle East Eye

This past winter, the word on the street in Lebanon was that the country was in for an eventful spring.
First there was the prediction of a full-out war with jihadists along Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria - although this appears to have been slightly delayed thanks to climate change, which continues to make a mockery of springtime and thwart ideal battle conditions with cold and snow.
The forecast then grew to include a resumption of political assassinations, with Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk citing ambiguous reports to that effect. To be sure, Lebanon’s perpetually afflicted nature means that any prediction of bad things happening is almost guaranteed validation - hence, perhaps, the success of the domestic clairvoyant industry.
Not foreseen in the spring schedule was the latest hostage crisis, which was a bit out of the ordinary even for a country superbly acquainted with the tradition of hostage-taking.
On 17 April, the news emerged that a number of prison guards were being held by inmates at Lebanon’s Roumieh jail north of Beirut. The figures varied, but most media outlets ultimately reported between 14 and 20 prison security personnel and other staff taken hostage. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

19 April 2015

The Kardashian factor and the G-word

Al Jazeera English

Business Insider recently offered a selection of "13 pictures that prove Amal Clooney is a complete boss". According to the website, George Clooney's lawyer wife merits this distinction "whether she's outshining her husband on the red carpet or representing Armenia in a human rights court over the Armenian genocide".
As Sarah Carr commented on Facebook: "I'm racking my brain … trying to remember an instance where a business publication did a slideshow to tell us that a male can be both intelligent and competent and look nice. Could it be that I missed that article, or is the media [expletive phrase]".
Clooney's court duty on behalf of Armenia took place in January at the European Court of Human Rights, where she went up against Turkish politician Dogu Perincek, previously convicted in Switzerland for denying the Armenian "genocide".
As the Associated Press puts it: "Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as genocide."

The Turkish narrative, on the other hand, relegates the G-word to quotation marks, insisting instead that the killing was mutual and that the Armenian casualty count has been inflated for malicious and politically motivated reasons.
At least 20 countries and 43 US states have recognised the mass killings as "genocide", but, 100 years after the fact, the PR battle rages on - and, as is the norm in advertising, sex sells. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

17 April 2015

The pseudoscience of countering violent extremism

Al Jazeera America

During a visit to the United States several years ago, I was drawn to a billboard on a New Jersey Transit platform that depicted a train bombing, helpfully labeled “train bombing.” The sign warned that “we’re all on the front lines” and encouraged viewers to report suspicious activity to the New Jersey Transit police via phone call or text message.
Closer inspection of the billboard revealed that the front lines in question in fact belonged to Madrid’s Atocha railway station, site of a 2004 terrorist attack. But hey, it’s a globalized world.
Today, we’re deeper in the trenches than ever before — and there’s more to the paranoia than meets the eye. The mutually reinforcing relationship between hyper-militarization abroad and over-policing at home means now we’re really determined to explore every option, no matter how baseless, in the ostensible pursuit of security. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA AMERICA.

14 April 2015

Hillary for the world?

Al Jazeera English

When Barack Obama was first elected in 2008, many inhabitants of the globe hoped that with the transition would come a more sympathetic US foreign policy. After all, a member of a historically persecuted cohort in the United States couldn't help but feel for the oppressed international masses, right?
Needless to say, such hopes were dashed to smithereens when Obama promptly gave George W Bush a run for his money in terms of general disregard for human life.
Besides failing to kick the old US habit of slaughtering civilians, Obama also worked hard to maintain the national image as a backer of right-wing coups and other meddlesome, profit-driven behaviour. Not long after assuming office, Obama had his first chance to remind Latin America who was boss by supporting the 2009 overthrow of the ever-so-slightly-leftward-leaning Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.
Enter Hillary
Although the US repeatedly denied involvement in the affair, Obama's then-secretary of state belatedly let the cat out of the bag - acknowledging in her memoir last year that she had strategised to prevent Zelaya's (lawful) return to office. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

12 April 2015

Outlawing public opinion in Spain

Al Jazeera English

When Spain first started making noises about an impending "Citizens' Security Law" that would criminalise various forms of popular protest, optimists may have assumed the flirtation with overt fascism couldn't last. At the very least - they might have reasoned - the government would have to retreat to semi-fascist mode.
Not so.
Approved on March 26, and expected to come into force on July 1, the law might be mistaken for something out of the Franco playbook. Dubbed the "gag law", it prescribes fines of up to 600 euros ($635) for disrespecting police officers, up to 30,000 euros ($32,000) for disseminating images of state security forces that might endanger them or their operations, and up to 600,000 euros ($635,000) for unauthorised street protests. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

06 April 2015

Guantanamo's 10-second makeover

Al Jazeera English

It's multiple-choice time.
Which of the following do you least associate with the word "victim"?
A. Someone held without charge in an illegal prison.
B. Someone held without charge in an illegal prison despite being cleared for release.
C. Someone tortured and held without charge in an illegal prison despite being cleared for release.
D. The prison guard.
If you chose "D", the United States Southern Command (Southcom) has a bone to pick with you. Take a look at its 2015 posture statement, which includes a short section on everyone's favourite American penal colony: Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

04 April 2015

No, Iran still hasn’t conquered the Americas

Al Jazeera America

On March 12, Gen. John F. Kelly, the commander of the United States Southern Command, alerted the Senate Armed Services committee to the growing threat posed by Iran. According to his statement, the Islamic Republic has “established more than 80 ‘cultural centers’” in Central and South America and the Caribbean — “a region with an extremely small Muslim population.” The scare quotes signal that Kelly has seen right through the cultural façade to Iran’s real project: terrorism sponsorship.
To close observers, Kelly’s conspiracy theory will have a familiar ring. Conservatives have been warning us about the Iranian subversion of Latin America for years.
At a 2009 Congressional hearing, Norman A. Bailey — a veteran of Ronald Reagan’s national security affairs — painted a grim picture of Iran’s “penetration into the Western Hemisphere through Venezuela.” Not only had the Iranians commandeered Venezuelan tractor and bicycle factories to store drugs, weapons “and other items useful to them and their terrorist clients,” they had even “opened a ‘maintenance’ facility in Honduras for the ‘tractors’ produced in Venezuela.”
As if this weren’t enough, they had also established embassies in a smattering of Latin American nations. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA AMERICA.